Tubs of powder, shakes and supplements that boost your levels of fitness constitute a $28 billion dollar industry. Through slick marketing campaigns and heavy advertising, companies are convincing people to part with their money in order to promote a fitness lifestyle. Is there any reason to believe that we need protein supplements to get fit, or is there a natural alternative? Could it really be as simple as sticking to a balanced diet?
How much protein do we actually need?
The American College of Sports Medicine conducted a study and found that active sportspeople need between 1.2 and 1.7 grams of protein per kg of bodyweight. The top end of this range is for people that are regularly competing in endurance events. The recreational athlete should be aiming for more like the 1.2 gram end of the scale. Yes, sportspeople do need to consume more calories, if they are using more energy up. However they can easily get this by eating a normal, natural diet. They simply need to eat more and focus on a higher protein content. Another Australian survey showed that even professional strength-based athletes generally need 2 grams of protein per kg in their normal diet. This is can be easily obtained through eating well, without the need to consume additional protein powders and other similar products.
What about dairy?
Dairy protein is often in the limelight on the fitness nutrition market, but do you need it if you want to improve your health? The proteins in dairy are whey and casein. Whey is generally the main ingredient in dairy protein supplements because it is actually a waste product of the cheese manufacturing industry. It is cheap and easy to obtain. Whey is used to help stimulate glycogen production and the release of insulin – this aids recovery if you have been exercising. Although there is some benefit in this, research has shown that drinking a simple glass of chocolate milk is just as effective.
So what do I need to eat?
All of the evidence points to a balanced diet. If you are a vegan, there is no reason why you can’t substitute meat and dairy with other sources of protein. Soy based foods such as tofu, edamame and tempeh are good. Tempeh contains around 15g of protein per half a cup. Lentils are also another great source of protein, as are chickpeas and quinoa. They contain essential potassium, iron and fiber – good for digestion. If you want a high-protein snack, you can’t go wrong with a handful of peanuts. They have a massive 20g of protein per half cup. Almonds and chia seeds are also good sources and add flavor to dishes like porridge, or sprinkle over salads. Much tastier than protein powder.
Having a balanced diet is incredibly beneficial if you are looking to improve your strength and fitness. You certainly don’t need to be consuming pots of protein powders and supplement bars. Eating natural, healthy food will give you all the energy that you need.